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A gripping evening

'Billy Budd' at English National Opera,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


It seems quite apt that English National Opera should follow its performances of Poulenc's The Carmelites with Britten's Billy Budd. Both operas date from the same post-war period and both deal with single sex enclosed communities; Poulenc's Carmelite nuns being paralleled by Britten's 18th century naval sea-men. But the operas also have a religio-mystical element in common; The Carmelites deals with the transference of grace and Billy Budd can be seen as an allegory of good and evil involving elements of Adam's fall and Christ's sacrifice and redemption.

Britten and his librettists (E M Forster and Eric Crozier) made these elements more explicit in the opera than in the Herman Melville story. In Melville, Captain Vere dies shortly after Billy, whereas in the opera the elderly Vere appears as prologue and epilogue; in the epilogue he is finally redeemed by Billy.

A full stage shot from Act 2 Scene 1 of 'Billy Budd'. Photo © 2005 ENO/Clive Barda
A full stage shot from Act 2 Scene 1 of 'Billy Budd'. Photo © 2005 ENO/Clive Barda

Neil Armfield's production has already been seen in Australia and Wales, but for its London début on Saturday 3 December 2005, ENO fielded a strong cast conducted by Andrew Litton, making a rare appearance in a London opera pit.

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Copyright © 6 December 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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